On June 13, 2002, American chemist Charles Keeling was awarded the National Medal of Science by President George W. Bush. Keeling had spent years documenting increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—the Keeling curve. Keeling tracked the curve by taking precise measurements from an observatory atop Mauna Loa, a volcano in Hawaii. The data were initially collected between 1958 and 1960 and measurements are still taken today.

 

Keeling also calculated the amount of carbon dioxide created from burning fossil fuels each year, and noticed a correlation between that calculation and the Keeling curve. This was one of the first indications to scientists that human activity could have a major effect on Earth's climate.

carbon dioxide
Noun

greenhouse gas produced by animals during respiration and used by plants during photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is also the byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

Charles Keeling
Noun

(1928-2005) American scientist who confirmed the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

chemist
Noun

person who studies the theory and application of atoms and molecules, and their relationships and interactions.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

data
Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

fossil fuel
Noun

coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

initially
Adverb

at first.

Keeling curve
Adjective

graph illustrating the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

precise
Adjective

exact.

Noun

an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.